Olive Oil Taste-Off: The Best Value For The Price, The California Edition
Best Gift-Giving Value: Calivirgin
About $26 for 16.9 ounces online and at specialty markets such as Monsieur Marcel and at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market the third Sunday of the month.
This is the prettiest bottle of the bunch, the sort of thing you really should give away as a gift but wind up keeping for yourself. Calivirgin, the front running label of Coldani Olive Ranch, is an unfiltered Arbequina and Koroneiki olive blend made by an Italian-American family in the San Joaquin Valley. Funny, we didn't know anything about the family until after we tasted the oil, but we felt the flavor was very much that cultural blend. A great balance.
By that, we mean lighter in flavor that those super grassy Tuscans that tend to be very much like their makers, as Joe Bastianich describes so well in regard to Italian winemakers: "A typical Tuscan, genuine and exuberant, [is] never timid about sharing his ideas of convictions." The same tends to apply to Tuscan olive oils, which is great some nights, but for those when we just want to settle in quietly and cook something more subtle, we're going to reach for the Calivirgin, which has more of that fresh olive flavor that we've seen in many good California oils.
This is an estate blend, meaning the olives are harvested from the Coldani family's ranch, not blended with bulk olives like the Ralph's blend, so the price is justifiably higher. Still, we felt this was still a pretty good value when looking at some high-end olive oils that creep well past the $35 mark. We just wish the glass bottle was darker. Yes, it's pretty, but a classic metal tin or dark green glass to keep that flavor bright would make us feel better about leaving that bottle within arms' reach on our sunny SoCal kitchen counter with our other favorite oils for the next few months. Especially after reading in that just-released UC Davis updated report that several California oils failed the test for excessive exposure to light and heat, which quickly damages olive oil.